By Lady Peter
Many thanks to those who provided feedback for this story: Push, AnnaFan, and FettsOnTop. Push, we miss you!
Chapter 1: Prologue
Approximately two months after the Battle of Endor. The Alliance to Restore the Republic has become the Alliance of Free Planets, and is fast on its way to becoming the New Republic. Bringing new worlds into the fold is the major goal of the Alliance. Diplomatic activity is at an all-time high and representatives are being recruited from all arms of the service to bring terms of membership to systems across the galaxy. Leia Organa has just returned with Mon Mothma from a disastrous mission to Herdessa, where Leia's harassment by militant locals turned out to be the least of the Alliance's problems. Han and Chewie are en route back from a mission to Zhota 3 which ended in a stalemate, but led to Han going on a subsequent trip to Seoul 5, long believed destroyed. Due to their conflicting schedules and the vagaries of intergalactic communications, Han and Leia have not seen or spoken to each other in 6 weeks.
The night Leia and Mon Mothma arrived back at the fleet after the Herdessa mission, she slept, but not well. The entire night was a jumble of unpleasant dreams that went on and on until one was enough to push her awake early in the morning.
She and Han and Luke have been captured by slavers. they are going over and over how they can escape. They can't agree whether to try and free all the other captives, too, or just themselves. Han says, "if you could stop thinking of yourself for a minute..." and she can't seem to say that she's not thinking of herself, that she's trying. Then Luke says, "really, after leading me on all that time you'd think you'd have learned your lesson." And she can't even think of anything to say to that. Then Vader appears and Leia knows that he's going to pick one of them to execute The dream ends with her agonizing over who he'll pick and what she should do about it.
She and Luke are talking and she's trying to explain to him how how she feels about Han, but he just keeps dismissing her. Everything she says comes out sounding silly and foolish. Then in an instant the two of them are at Vader's pyre on Endor, and Luke wants her to say goodbye before he sets it alight. But she won't, and Luke keeps pushing the torch at her, and it's starting to burn out, and she has to do it now, now.
Finally, she and Han are making love, only they're in the council chamber on Home One. She's terrified that someone will come in, but Han is completely oblivious. Over and over she hears the door opening, only no one ever comes in. And then all of a sudden the entire council is seated at the table around them, discussing food shortages in the fleet and giving them disapproving glances. Han is still vigorously making love to her. She's burning with shame.
Leia woke up clutching the sheet to her and already scrambling off the bed to hide herself. Her disorientation was so great that it took her a full 60 seconds to really wake up and understand where she was. She'd had experiences like this before at times of great stress, and she hated it every time.
She got back into bed and tried to slow her breathing. Her first thought was of the way she'd awoken the first few mornings after Han had left for Zhotta 3. She'd known where she was that time, but she'd been unsettled to turn over and find the bed empty. It had only been a little while since Han had begun sleeping here most nights, but already there was such a thing as "Han's side of the bed." Leia realized that without even noticing, she'd begun to ease herself over there when she couldn't sleep at night, and first thing in the morning before she was even really awake. Han's warm bulk beside her was the first thing she really missed about him. But as those first days went on, the list got longer and longer.
There were some things Leia had known she would miss, of course: seeing his face every day, kissing that face whenever she pleased. She'd known that she'd miss making love with him and laughing with him and being held in the middle of the night. But she didn't expect to miss waking up next to him, or his surprisingly good advice. She didn't expect to miss the feeling of his arm in hers as they walked together, his skin and muscle feeling so concrete and reassuring under her hand. Leia hadn't known that she'd miss feeling that dull, sweet ache low in her belly after a particularly wild night, but she did. She missed going through her day, all the while feeling a secret reminder of the way Han had pleasured her the night before.
For those first three days, the list of things she missed about Han kept piling up until it was overwhelming. She found herself crying herself to sleep each night. Leia had never felt this way before: absolutely bereft in the absence of a lover. She was terrified to think that her happiness might rest solely on one other being. So on the fourth night after Han left for Zhotta 3, which was also the night before she left for Herdessa, Leia had a stern talk with herself. Buck up, she said. You lived without him for twenty years, and you can live without him now for twenty days. What are you, some helpless little girl who can't do anything without a man beside her? Is that how you were raised? Is that how you expect to serve the people of this galaxy? Han left because he was needed more elsewhere, and he'll be back soon enough to warm your little bed and comfort you. Until then, be a godsdamn woman. Straighten your back, drop your shoulders, and do what you're here to do: found a government.
It worked. By now, six weeks later, when she woke from those terrible dreams, she didn't expect to see Han next to her in bed. She didn't even wish that he was there to hold her. She was used to single life again. Han would be back in about a week, and she honestly couldn't seem to feel anything about it one way or the other. She supposed that as the time came closer she'd start to feel more excited, but for now, she was coasting along in a mode she'd perfected in the years after Yavin. One part solitude, two parts hard work, and a dash of friends on the side. There simply wasn't room for anything more.
She had at least five more days to figure out what to do about Han, and until then there was an increasingly dire refugee problem that the Provisional Council had vowed to address. Leia decided to devote all of her attention to those beings who had managed to escape imperial worlds in the aftermath of the battle of Endor, only to find themselves with nowhere to go.
Having calmed herself just enough to function, Leia got out of bed and headed for the 'fresher to get ready for another long work day.
Leia's office on Home One was on a side corridor close to the Council chamber. she tried to keep it neat, but even with Threepio's help, it always seemed that new data pads were being spawned overnight and left on the desk. The situation was even worse upon returning from a trip. She was just examining a pad she was sure hadn't been there before she left when her fellow councilwoman, Doman Berus, poked her head in the door. "Good morning, Leia, and welcome back. Am I bothering you?"
"Not at all Doman: good morning. Come sit down. Have you had your morning caf yet?" Leia was glad to see Berus this morning: the Corellian representative was a comrade on the Council and a good woman. She always spoke sense, and usually shared Leia's outlook on issues before the Council, even if they didn't always agree on the best way to act.
"I can't stay, but I wanted to tell you that I stopped into Fleet Control on my way over here, and I overheard word given that Falcon is expected to join the fleet and dock here by the end of the day."
"Oh my goodness!"
"Yes, I thought you'd said they weren't expected for another few days."
"No: Han and Chewie weren't supposed to be back until the end of the week at least." This wasn't what Leia was expecting to hear from Berus, but she was grateful to be given the heads-up by someone friendly: she was more surprised and discomfited than excited to hear this news. In a moment, though, the tone of Berus' conversation took a turn for the worse.
"Well, smile, dear! You're going to see your- now just what do you call him these days?" Leia felt the edges of a trap beginning to close around her. She had no idea what Berus was on to, but it wasn't good.
"Usually "Han," but "General Solo" for formal use."
"You are funny, Leia, but really-you know that labels matter. Is he your gentleman friend? Your lover? Your consort?"
So that's what this was. Leia had gotten versions of this question several times by now. (in fact, it had begun in a seminal form with her debrief after the Bespin debacle.) Some members of the High Council were scandalized that the Princess of Alderaan was engaged in a frankly sexual affair while making no attempt at secrecy. Others might have accepted her having a relationship, as long as she'd chosen a partner who was a bit more appropriate. Some of these people just glared, some approached her out of a seeming concern for her wellbeing, and some had openly criticized her. Finally, there was a minority of her peers and mentors who either didn't care how she conducted her love life, or were genuinely happy for her. She had counted Doman Berus among those until this morning. By this time Leia felt slightly more comfortable facing these inquiries, even if she didn't have a definitive response to them. "I think boyfriend will have to do for now, or lover if you want to be awfully grown-up about it."
"So... consort is off the table?" Now this was becoming the most aggressive level of inquiry that she'd experienced yet. Leia rose from her desk to meet her interrogation. "That's a term that's only used when a couple is married, as I'm sure you know. Not to mention the difficulty of assigning roles to members of an extinct royal family."
"Not extinct, Leia: there's you. And your-fiancee?"
"What exactly are you digging for, Doman?"
"I'm trying to ascertain the status of your current relationship."
Something about this was all wrong. "Just where does this interest come from? And what right do you claim to it?"
"I claim the right of a woman representing the Corellian system in this fledgling republic. Your "boyfriend" is about to become one of the most famous Corellians in the galaxy. And I want to know whether he's also going to become the Prince Consort of Alderaan. I have a feeling it will have an impact."
Could this really be what this was all about? Leia allowed herself to be distracted by a group of aides chattering in the hallway and gathered her thoughts. Would it really have a galactic impact if she and Han got married? It could, but it would all depend on what kind of government emerged, and on what role they each would take in that government, if any. It also would depend on the kind of culture that developed. Would being a "hero of the Rebellion" mean anything in ten years? Would being a Princess of Alderaan? No one knew. But Doman Berus seemed to think that it was important to her own role to have a handle on Han and Leia's future. The problem was, Han and Leia themselves didn't know what that was. All they'd been able to nail down concretely was their love for each other and their commitment to making their relationship work, in whatever form it took.
What was more, Leia felt a distinct intrusion on her privacy. She couldn't say for sure that Berus was out of line here, but it certainly felt wrong. "I cannot speak to that with you. This is a personal matter and not one I'm ready to discuss with anyone on the Provisional Council."
"But you've lived your entire life in the public sphere. You must know that your choice of mate has public importance."
"Perhaps it will and perhaps it won't, but in either case Han has not lived his life in public. I won't say a word about this until I've consulted with him."
"I'm surprised to hear that you haven't discussed it yet." That one stung. Now Berus just seemed to be baiting her. Leia decided to pretend she hadn't heard.
"And then, if we agree to make any statement, it will be public-not behind closed doors. Either no-one has this information, or everyone does. I don't know what strategic advantage you could possibly gain from this information, but I'm not going to play any games."
"No games, Leia. I'm just an interested party. I look forward to
hearing just what Solo is to you-along with everyone else." And with that, Berus departed, leaving Leia in a cloud of doubt and anxiety.
Leia walked down a main passageway on Home One, the steam trailing from her ears faintly visible to passers by. She was on her way to meet Luke for lunch, but all she could think of was her encounter with Doman Berus. The absolute gall of the woman! Leia hated this: feeling robbed of her own most profound experiences. Most of the time she accepted that her own life didn't belong to her, but at times like this she felt a deep resentment. There were some things so precious that she wanted to keep them just for herself. And at times it felt like the whole world was trying to take them away.
This wasn't new, and it wasn't going to end soon. Shortly after the Bakura mission Leia and Han had begun to get glances askance and one or two very pointed questions about their intentions, but it was easy then to plead that it was just too soon after Han's rescue and the Battle of Endor to make any decisions. But now, Doman Berus actually had a sliver of a point in her argument. Leia and Han couldn't go on forever without defining their relationship. They'd have to make some kind of statement, either directly or through a representative, that gave some kind of clarity. Maybe the people she served really did deserve that.
What was worse, she didn't feel right about Han's return. She had thought she'd have more time to prepare for his arrival: she needed to get herself into the right mindset in order to welcome him back, and now there was this. Not only was he arriving early, but it seemed they were going to face a new round of heat about their relationship too.
And to top it all off, now she had to face lunch with her brother: he'd be sure to sense her agitation and want to talk about it. Leia usually drew comfort from confiding in Luke, but she didn't feel like it today. Or, in fact, like discussing anything else Luke might want to talk about. With everything else going on, Leia had managed to push the truth about her biological father to the back of her consciousness. Accepting Luke as her twin was the only part of the whole thing that felt right. And since considering him her brother was a very natural extension of their relationship, it was relatively easy to isolate that one fact from the rest of the reality. But Luke did have a way of pushing it sometimes. Leia dearly hoped that today wouldn't be one of those days.
Luke had already been waiting for several minutes when he saw Leia walk into the mess hall. It was unusual for her to not comm' him and let him know she was running late: as he watched her approach, he wondered what had caused her lapse, and also about the tension that was rippling out from her in the Force. She did at least manage a real smile when she reached him. "Hi. I'm so sorry I'm late: I don't even have a good excuse."
"No problem. Did you hear, though?" He offered Leia his arm as if he was escorting her to a formal banquet instead of through a grub line. As he'd hoped, it kept her smiling as she took his arm and walked with him.
"About Han and Chewie comm'ing in this morning? Yes, Doman Berus told me. They're supposed to dock any time now, right?"
"Right. But how did Doman Berus know about it?"
"Oh, apparently she just happened to be over at fleet control this morning, so she stopped in just to be friendly and let me know, only then she interrogated me." As she spoke, Luke had a feeling he was getting close to the source of Leia's tension.
"Oh, about my 'relationship' and how it is to be officially designated. Wait - there are too many people around. Let's get through the line and I'll tell you the rest when we sit down."
Luke did his best to hold his peace until he'd taken his first bite of lunch, but he hadn't quite managed to swallow it before starting in again. "I just don't get it. Why does anyone care about what you and Han do? It's your lives." Leia answered as she disassembled her lunch, a savory wrap that she was consuming one tiny morsel at a time.
"Well, no, not really. As a public servant, my personal decisions have significance beyond just me. And being a member of one of the noble houses means that your life is always on display. And as Berus pointed out, Han is most likely going to be a public figure as well. Our personal decisions are going to make a difference in the galaxy, at least on some level."
"I know that you two love each other. So... why don't you just get married?"
"We do love each other Luke, and I want to spend the rest of my life with Han, I really do, but I'm just not ready to get married. The whole world is moving too fast. I think Han would do it just to make me happy, but I don't think he's ready either. And maybe everyone expects us to get married or just end it, but neither of those things is right for us. I don't know why that's so hard for people to accept."
"I get what you're saying about the world moving so fast, Leia. It seems like we wake up every morning to a new galaxy. And we all forget how new your relationship with Han really is. The betting pools on Hoth were what now, a year and a half ago? But it's really been more like three months. You deserve a little breathing room. I mean, really you deserve to be left alone about it, but let's not get greedy."
"Thank you, Luke. It feels so good just to hear someone say that. I don't know what I'd do without you." Luke wondered what people would think if anyone noticed Leia putting her hand over his. Would it be worse for people to think that they were sleeping together, or to guess the truth? He had a feeling Leia might have a different opinion than him on that score.
"Of course, Leia. I'm sorry if I'm slow on the pickup with this stuff sometimes: its not really my area of expertise. Is all this why you don't seem happy to see Han today?"
And just like that, Leia's hand drew back. "Is that what you think you're feeling from me?" The sudden fear in her eyes, and the image of Han that came from her through the Force, rare in its strength and specificity, gave Luke some much-needed insight. This was less about Doman Berus than it was about Han-and Leia didn't feel as much confidence in navigating matters of the heart as she did matters of galactic diplomacy.
"Mostly I feel your anxiety and your stress. But I know you. I know how you are when you're expecting to see Han again, and this isn't it. I think I even used to see it before the Hoth evacuation. You just kept a really tight lid on it."
"Oh yes? And how do I act?"
"Your voice is a little higher, for one. And you act almost giddy."
"No, Luke, absolutely not. There's no way." Much to Luke's relief, Leia's smile was peeking out again.
"Oh, you can deny it, and you'd keep it under wraps for sure, but the closest to giddy I've ever seen you is when the Falcon is going to be coming out of hyper any minute." And it used to drive me crazy, was the part he didn't say.
No, this wasn't Leia's usual behavior, but there was something similar, he realized. She wasn't giddy, but she was jittery. Every few minutes she'd look around, as if checking to see if they might be overheard. Luke saw Wedge approaching and subtly waved him off. It was obvious Leia wouldn't welcome the company, and she was so preoccupied with alternately scanning the room for eavesdroppers and staring at her plate that she missed their friend appearing in her blind spot.
"I don't know what I can say to dissuade you, but things are perfectly normal. Han and I are fine. How could anything be wrong? We haven't seen each other to have an argument in almost two months."
"Maybe that's part of the problem."
"OK, Jedi master, that's enough wisdom from you for one meal. I've got to go to a meeting about provisions for refugee camps. If the Falcon comes in later I'm sure I'll see you."
"'Bye, Leia." Luke was left feeling that Leia was dodging something. If she didn't want to discuss it with him, fine, but he hoped that she was being more truthful with herself than she was being with him.